BOSTON -- The majority of Monday night was a frustrating one for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
And then, suddenly, it was Tom Brady Time. And things changed in a hurry.
Trailing the Saints 16-3 in the fourth quarter, Brady and the offense gained possession at their own 9-yard line with 5:21 left to play. The outlook may have been grim, but Brady kicked things into a gear that only he can reach. The 45-year-old quarterback completed five of the first seven passes of the drive for 54 yards. After a holding penalty on left tackle Donovan Smith set up a second-and-20, Brady threw deep to Mike Evans. Instead of a 45-yard touchdown pass, Brady and Evans got a 44-yard pass interference penalty out of it. On the next snap, Brady hit Cade Otton for a 1-yard touchdown, cutting New Orleans' lead to six points.
Brady hit five different receivers on that drive, which took just 2:21 off the clock and didn't require the use of any timeouts.
But of course, work remained to be done. And the Bucs' defense forced a Saints three-and-out in just 31 seconds. Carl Nassib sacked Andy Dalton for a loss of 10 yards on second-and-7, and Keanu Neal made a tremendous play to jar a ball free from Tayson Hill on what what would have been a huge completion for the Saints on third down. That defensive stand forced a Saints punt, giving the ball back to Brady at the Tampa Bay 37-yard line with 2:29 left to play.
With all three timeouts and the two-minute warning to work with, Brady did what Brady does.
All Brady did on that drive was go 8-for-10 for 63 yards and the game-winning touchdown. That included a 7-yard strike to Scotty Miller to convert a third-and-6 at the New Orleans 27-yard line, and it didn't include the touchdown pass to Chris Godwin that was negated due to another Smith holding penalty.
That penalty pushed the Bucs back to their 15-yard line with just 16 seconds left in the game, making things a bit dicey. But Brady went to Godwin for 9 yards on second-and-15, and then hit Rachaad White for the 6-yard game-winner.
It was a spectacular comeback ... but it was also so typically Brady.
For the quarterback, it was the 56th game-winning drive and the 43rd fourth-quarter comeback of his regular-season career, but it was also his biggest fourth-quarter comeback since famously leading the Patriots back from their 28-3 Super Bowl deficit at the end of the 2016 season. (Brady has 14 game-winning drives and nine fourth-quarter comebacks in his postseason career.)
These stakes weren't quite the same as the Super Bowl, though the Bucs ran the risk of falling to 5-7 if not for the late-game heroics of Brady, the pass catchers, and the defense. And while a 6-6 record through 12 games is not at all the type of scenario that coaxed Brady out of retirement, games like Monday's are the exact reason why he knew he had to keep playing for as long as possible.
In total on those game-winning drives, Brady was 14-for-18 for 118 yards and two touchdowns. He had been 22-for-36 for 163 yards with no touchdowns and one interception prior to those two drives, and his patchwork offensive line appeared to have been breaking down as the game went on.
Yet when Brady is under center, there's always a belief. There's always reason to believe. His teammates feel it. His coaches know it. And his opponents more often than not understand it as well.
Again, this wasn't a Super Bowl. This Bucs team may ultimately do nothing in January and February. But the fact is, Tom Brady is in year 23 of his NFL career, and he's still delivering. That's really something.
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